In the wake of having to postpone my wedding day to an unknown date, I found myself in the grip of my emotions.
As a food and eating psychology coach, part of my work is teaching people tools and techniques that can help them to experience and process negative emotion rather than reaching for food. During lockdown, this knowledge has been invaluable to me.
At the peak of my discomfort, I decided to use a journaling activity where you seek to name the emotions you are experiencing, write them down and work through them.
These are the emotions I wrote down:
One of the unique facets of humanity is our ability to experience emotion. Most of us are okay with the ones that make us feel warm and fuzzy or don’t cause us too much bother, but the emotions that cause us discomfort we have more difficulty with.
Social conditioning teaches us that positive emotions are acceptable and okay to experience and share, but negative emotions are less acceptable, not so easy to experience and should really be avoided.
The challenge with this is that it is inevitable that we are going to encounter negative emotions. If you subscribe to the law of averages, then it’s probable that half your life will be spent experiencing positive emotions and the other half, negative. And in the face of a global pandemic, many of us will no doubt be experiencing our fair share of the inevitable bad stuff.
How we learn to connect emotion and eating.
Think back to when you were young. Were you ever handed a sweet to ease the pain of a grazed knee? Maybe you were comforted by cake when you lost the match? Food has a wonderful way of making us feel better, if only momentarily.
Using food as a comfort or a distraction from negative emotions is not a bad thing. Being a foodie, it’s a technique I quite often use myself. The challenge comes when we struggle to find other ways to soothe ourselves.
In the current lockdown situation where we are faced with ongoing uncertainty, something that is well documented as causing high levels of stress among humans, and disconnection from the things that normally help us to feel better; seeing relatives, going to the gym, travelling and socialising, to name but a few, it might feel like food is one of our only sources of comfort.
The problem is, that when the cake is gone the original stressor is still there. Worse, if we get stuck in a cycle of turning to food for comfort, we can end up chastising ourselves for it, which causes us even more discomfort.
If this rings true for you, then my journaling exercise might help you to work through your emotions rather than heading to the fridge.
You will need a pen and paper.
- Name the feeling you are experiencing. Whatever comes up write it down. If you need help with this go online and search for ‘emotion word wheel’, it should return a wheel of descriptive words for feelings that can help you to pinpoint what it is you are feeling.
- Write down how it feels physically. What sensations are happening in your body? For example, I know when I am nervous I feel it in my stomach, I might feel my heart beating in my chest. Emotions are visceral.
Note: The purpose of doing this is to acknowledge what you are experiencing, and to connect to it rather than avoiding it. It sends a signal to your brain that it’s ok to experience what you are feeling.
- The next step is to observe your thoughts and write them down. What are the sentences or statements in your head that are feeding the emotion? For example, for me it was: ‘I have no influence over anything’, ‘I have no idea what is going to happen’, ‘What if we can’t get a wedding date?’
- Finally, work to re-frame your thoughts. This takes work, particularly if you feel a little stuck. Look at how you can change the sentences so you can feel better. If it’s too hard to put positivity into it, simply move to neutral, an example of what I mean by this is: My original thought was, ‘I have no influence over anything’. To move it to neutral I might write: ‘being able to influence things is available to me’, whereas a more positive statement (the one I chose to write) is: ‘I can influence many things including how I feel’.
It might feel difficult initially, but try using this technique a few times until you get into a flow with it. It can help you to navigate the uncertainty of the current time and cope with the emotions that inevitably go with it.
If you are struggling with repetitive emotional eating patterns, then my online course, overcome emotional eating, teaches you many more tools like this one to work through your emotions and feel so much better in yourself.